What You Need to Know About the New Coronavirus
Public health officials around the world are concerned about a new type of virus first identified in China in December 2019. Originally named 2019-novel coronavirus, the illness has been renamed COVID-19, which stands for corona-virus disease 19. The virus that causes COVID-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. Many thousands of cases and deaths have been confirmed around the world. The virus does spread from person to person, and outbreaks have occurred in a growing number of places, including the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is actively investigating and providing frequent updates.
We spoke recently with Eric Sachinwalla, MD, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Einstein Healthcare Network, about the outbreak.
Q: What is COVID-19?
A: COVID-19 is a respiratory illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are actually a family of respiratory viruses. The common cold is caused by a type of coronavirus. There are many different types. SARS-CoV-2 is a brand-new virus that we haven’t ever really seen cause infections in humans before.
Q: Does COVID-19 cause serious illness?
A: It does cause severe illness in some people. People have unfortunately died from this. People who have underlying medical conditions or older people seem to be at higher risk for more severe illness. People who are otherwise healthy seem to be able to overcome the infection and recover. Right now it seems that the people who are at risk for bad outcomes with flu are the same people that are at risk for bad outcomes with COVID-19.
Q: What are the typical symptoms of COVID-19?
A: Most people that get sick from this have a fever, cough, muscle aches – and difficulty breathing in severe cases. These are very generic symptoms of lower respiratory tract illness. Sore throat can be seen early on. GI symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can occur. In some people, sudden loss of smell or taste has been reported as the initial symptom.
Q: How is it spread?
A: Most coronaviruses are spread – and the theory is that this one is spread – through respiratory secretions. Either somebody coughs and sheds the virus into the air, or it lands on a surface and someone touches that surface and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes. So it can spread from person to person that way. In most situations, the virus does not travel very far through the air, usually less than 6 feet. This means you are more likely to get the infection if you have been in close contact for a prolonged period with someone who is sick.
Q: What can I do to prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory infections?
- If you have a cough, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or cough into your elbow to prevent the virus from spreading out into the open air where you could potentially infect someone else.
- Even if you aren’t sick, make sure you wash your hands frequently. Hands can be washed with soap and water for 20 seconds or with alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available. Soap and water should be used if hands are visibly dirty.
- As much as possible, avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Be especially careful if you’ve been out in public or around someone who is sick. Make sure you wash your hands before eating or drinking.
- Maintain a distance from people who are sick.
- If you’re sick, stay home from work.
- If you don’t have an essential job that requires your presence, stay inside your home unless you absolutely need to go out. This is referred to as “social distancing” and helps prevent you from being exposed to someone who may be sick. Reasons to go out include exercise in the outdoors or vital errands such as buying food or medicine.
- When you are out in public, do not go to areas with groups of people in close contact. Keep a distance of 6 feet from other people and wear a cloth face covering. A cloth face covering helps to protect you from accidentally touching your face with potentially dirty hands.
- Wash your hands immediately after coming inside.
Follow all other directives from local authorities to reduce spread of the virus.
Visit Einstein.edu for up-to-date information about COVID-19, what you should do if you feel sick, and what Einstein is doing in response to the outbreak of this illness.